By M.D. Kittle
MADISON, Wis. – Things are heating up in John Doe Land’s Capitol cooker in advance of a looming Senate confirmation vote on the embattled administrators of the Ethics and Elections commissions.
Tensions have hit new levels in the wake of Attorney General Brad Schimel’s report last month on the illegal leaks of John Doe investigation documents to a liberal publication.
Members of the Ethics and Elections commissions, the agencies that replaced the disgraced state Government Accountability Board, have doubled down on their defense of their directors. The GOP-led Senate appears to have lost whatever faith they had in Ethics administrator Brian Bell and Elections administrator Michael Haas, and it appears likely the bureaucrats will not survive the Senate confirmation process.
On Thursday, Bell received a unanimous vote of confidence from his commission.
Haas and Bell have served in their posts since July 2016, when the GAB was disbanded following revelations of its integral involvement in the unconstitutional “John Doe II” and what Schimel has described as “John Doe III” – investigations into conservative organizations and the campaign of Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Bell worked at the GAB at the time but was not involved in the politically motivated John Doe probe. Haas was actively involved, according to emails and other communications released as part of a settlement in a lawsuit against the GAB.
The Ethics Commission met Thursday morning, much of that time in closed session, to address Bell’s request for an investigation to clear his name ahead of the confirmation vote.
But there are concerns that Patrick Fiedler, the attorney tapped to look into the Bell matter, is employing the same kind of tactics used in the John Doe investigation – playing the role of the heavy to “intimidate” and impede Republican senators in their legislative duties.
Fiedler, a former Dane County judge, represented Dean Nickel, a former GAB investigator who was a key agent in the John Doe probe. He sought to dismiss a federal lawsuit filed by conservative targets against Nickel and other John Doe agents.